Optimize the Eating Environment

Ready to take another step towards mealtime bliss? When you pay attention to the environment, or where your family eats, you’ll see opportunities to influence what and how you and your children eat, both for the better and the worse. We’ve got 2 strategies for you…1) eliminate distractions and 2) set the scene.

Let’s get rid of distractions

Distractions like electronics, toys, smells and pets do one thing, they make it harder for us to listen to our own hunger and fullness cues. We’ve all been victims of mindless eating, when we just go through the motions instead of appreciating a meal. So how can we hit ‘reset’? Here are some tips to take on common distractions:

Electronics

Sometimes we need distractions to keep a meal civil (especially at a restaurant!). We’re not here to make you feel bad, but relying on electronics overtime to get through EVERY sit down dinner, actually is bad in the long run. Here are some goals to strive for. Listen up! You do not need to make these changes all at once.

  • Get all the phones and screens off the table and out of site at mealtime. 
  • Turn the TV off.
  • Try to wean kids off like this –> full show, shorter show, audiobook, nothing.
  • Music? If your kid is easily stimulated, you may want to turn off music and see what happens.
  • Be the example! Put your phone away too.

Toys

  • Yup! No toys. 
  • For long meals and eating out, use toys before and after the food arrives.

Smells

  • Turn off candles and diffusers during mealtime, and don’t keep them near where you eat.
  • Use smells to your advantage. Talk about what dinner smells like as a way to explore food in a new way.

Dogs and pets

  • Keep the pups away from meals
  • Dogs are smart and know how to ‘work’ your toddler. Avoid the toddler feeding the dog. it will certainly turn into a game.
  • You want your kids to focus on the meal, not the pet.
  • At the end of the meal, bring the dog over to signal the end of the meal. That’s how cleanup should begin!

Mid-meal clean up

Don’t do this! Embrace the mess, even if it is all over your child’s face and the floor. Wiping her face mid meal can really distract her and signal that the meal is over (even if she is still hungry). We repeat, embrace the mess. 

Set the scene

Now that the distractions are outta here, let’s look at some other ways you can set up where you eat to your benefit. 

Designate a spot to eat

This can change day to day, but be clear that for the meal, all food stays in one spot. If your kid needs a break to get the wiggles out, fine! The food should stay where it is. This doesn’t mean you always have to eat at the table. Other fun places to eat are at the counter, on a picnic blanket (inside or out) or on a rug (like in Arabic cultures).

Set the table

The place setting also is important. Try to set the table for at least one meal a day. As kids grow up, swap out dishes to change things up. Anyone else have Aunt Lou’s china in the basement? Why not use it. For little ones, cartoon plates can also add some variety and fun.

Eat together

Family meals are quite powerful in that they lead to some serious positive outcomes in the educational and social space. Don’t stress if you can’t make it happen all the time. Try for one meal a day (or week). Or, time your snacks so you can eat with your little ones. Read more about family meals and why they are so awesome.

Keep the length of the meal age appropriate

For kids under 5 there is no reason to keep them sitting until everyone is done! The guide here is 2 to 5 minutes per year of life. So that means:

  • 1 year = 2 to 5 minutes
  • 2 years = 5 to 10 minutes
  • 3 years = 10 to 15 minutes
  • 4 – 5 years = 15 to 25 minutes
  • 6 years and up = 30 to 45 minutes

Remember to maximize your little ones attention to eat. This means dinner ready when everyone comes to the table. It also helps to give kids a 5 minute warning to signal dinner is almost ready. 

A special note for slow eaters: Give kids a 5 minute warning when there is 5 minutes left. It’s OK to end the meal after the time passes listed above.

Signal the end of the meal

Last, we love to have a consistent ending. This can be calling the dog over to start the clean up, or taking dishes to the sink.

Ready to shop?

Check out our round up some of our favorites to make the meal setting extra special.

Want more help?

Sometimes eliminating mealtime distractions or getting a slow eater to move it can be stressful. Make an appointment with a Fooblie coach. We’re here to help you make a plan that leads to mealtime bliss. You’ve got this!